Thanks to the generosity of The Pierre and Tana Matisse Foundation, we've created New Victory SPARK
, or "Schools with the Performing Arts Reach Kids," an innovative and robust multi-year arts program specifically designed for schools underserved in the arts. With the esteemed research firm WolfBrown, we're also measuring and analyzing the "intrinsic impact" of this program. The following is the final piece in a four-part story
about our initial findings.
Contributed by Alan Brown and Sean Fenton, WolfBrown
In the SPARK project we ventured into new territory—we asked students as young as 8 to respond to in-seat surveys about the impact of a performance they had just seen. We wanted to know if young people could help us to develop a deeper understanding of the impact of live theater experiences.
Our survey instrument
includes quantitative measures of emotional response, anticipation and impact, as well as open-ended questions pertaining to students' curiosity and feelings about the performances. To make this work, house staff distribute the printed surveys and special pencils during the Q&A session following each performance. Then staff collect the student responses, and everyone heads out to their school buses waiting on 42nd Street within 10 minutes. As of the end of the 2017 school year, we will have collected approximately 2,000 surveys for nine shows. As completed surveys come in, we clean, code and upload the data to an interactive dashboard through which New Vic staff can query the results.
So far, the results paint a picture of distinct "impact footprints":
- Shows featuring acrobatics, circus acts and other spectacles tend to spark interest in the artists themselves and their training;
- Story-based productions tend to elicit more questions about characters' emotions and production design choices;
- Shows with more complex narratives and character arcs evoke a greater mix of positive and negative emotions in students, which may be evidence of empathy development;
- Both spectacle-based and story-based productions can produce powerful social bridging (i.e., learning about other people and cultures) and aesthetic growth outcomes (i.e., exposure to new art forms).
These results suggest that an artistic director is curating impact, as much as specific works. A season is a tour through a varied emotional landscape—an opportunity to explore a magnificent range of human emotions, ideas and histories. Our work with New Vic has underscored the idea that "challenging" artistic work—work that draws on a wide emotional range, including feelings of sadness or disappointment—has an integral place in a well-curated season, alongside works that elicit feelings of joy and wonder.
The results from this study open a new chapter in our journey to understand the immediate effects or intrinsic impacts of arts programs on both children and adults. But this work is just beginning. Further analysis will investigate how students at different grade levels respond to the same work, whether students with more experience in the SPARK program respond differently and how multiple points of intervention/exposure may stack to create greater impact.
Learn more about the SPARK program here
||Alan Brown is a leading researcher and management consultant in the nonprofit arts industry. His work focuses on understanding consumer demand for cultural experiences and helping cultural institutions, foundations and agencies see new opportunities, make informed decisions and respond to changing conditions. His studies have introduced new vocabulary to the lexicon of cultural participation and propelled the field towards a clearer view of the rapidly changing cultural landscape.
||As director of WolfBrown's Intrinsic Impact audience feedback program, Sean Fenton has played a seminal role in bringing new tools and approaches to audience measurement efforts nationwide. He brings to the team a background in anthropology, community relations, communications, and arts marketing, as well as over 13 years of experience in the performing arts sector.